I t is a pretty safe bet that at any given time Monday through Friday, somewhere around Austin, there is a group of folks either preparing for, participating in, or just finishing a free fitness or nutrition class in a location convenient to them. Access to this exercise exists as the result of the vision and hard work of WeViva, an organization founded less than four years ago by Carolyn Haney.
While enjoying dinner at the home of a former student earlier this year, Haney got to witness firsthand the effect that her program has slowly started to have on the people with whom they work. There were three generations of the same family present: a mother, daughter, and grandmother, all of whom regularly attend WeViva classes. Their conversation eventually turned to the WeViva classes the family had enjoyed, and the grandmother began to hold court on what she had learned recently regarding the effects and prevalence of sugar and sodas in daily diets. Soon, the entire table entered in a serious conversation and all present were dismayed at this nutritional problem, interested in solutions, and empowered to take the steps Grandmother had learned in her class. At the same dinner, the mother shared how the WeViva Zumba classes has helped her lose weight and battle depression, all while she manages a family of three children.
This was almost a dream scenario for Haney, who received her licensed master social worker certification from the University of Texas in 2006 and subsequently worked in the nonprofit world from 2006 to 2010. “Around that time, I realized that there was a gap in providing affordable and accessible fitness and nutrition program to people (mainly female adults) in low-income neighborhoods,” Haney said. “Although there was a multitude of programs targeting kids and health/wellness as well as an abundance of fitness and nutrition programs for people who could afford the services, I didn’t see anything that was targeting low-income individuals.”
A mother, veteran runner, and fitness enthusiast herself, Haney’s expertise in social work and love of wellness sparked her to create WeViva, with a mission “to provide accessible and affordable fitness and nutrition programs to individuals and families in low-income communities.” That they also help provide community, disease prevention, a social outlet, self-esteem, and much more are very nice ancillary benefits.
Haney’s passion for this cause becomes immediately clear in conversation. She understands the physical, mental, and emotional benefits to mothers when they are able to get away for just a little while and take some time for themselves. She knows that there are numerous organizations (locally and beyond) that focus on the health and well-being of children, and she wanted to focus on helping the women charged with raising those children. “WeViva aims to reduce some of the barriers that individuals, mainly women, face when making the decision to prioritize their wellness,” Haney said. “In doing so, WeViva classes not only improve a woman’s health, but produce healthy role models for children and families.”
Haney believes that it is WeViva’s open-mindedness regarding class content and ability to provide on-site childcare that set them apart. Before offering a class in any area, WeViva asks around about the interests of the people who would be most likely to attend. They also provide volunteers to manage childcare, thereby giving moms that important time to themselves they may not have otherwise been able to find.
“Based on the philosophy that everyone should have equal access to a healthy lifestyle, all classes are free for participants and provided onsite at convenient locations. WeViva is unique because of the mobility of its services,” Haney explained. “By bringing services directly to interested participants, we decrease barriers to access, such as transportation and childcare, and increase the likelihood of ongoing participation and improved health.”
And it is working. WeViva has expanded from one location in January of 2011 to 18 locations today, with nearly 30 Zumba, yoga, nutrition, and low-impact fitness classes throughout the week. Since January 2014, nearly 1,000 individuals have attended a class and, of those, WeViva estimates that 80 percent are repeat attendees.
“They have given me the opportunity to know that it is not too late to begin any type of exercise and to learn new ways to eat healthy food,” said one parent who is frequent WeViva class participant.